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  • Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor had one thing in common -- beauty and a delectable innate sexiness. So it makes sense that both would tackle Tennesse Williams Maggie the Cat, in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof."

    In this version of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," its clear that the characters of Brick and Maggie the Cat are older. But, that makes the drama just that much more believable and interesting. They've put on a few years, which enhances the desperation of all the characters to achieve their goals and needs.

    Maggie will not allow herself and Brick to miss out on the financial safety net that gives her a sense of peace. Brick, is even more on the edge from burying his feelings about his dead school friend and former football teammate, whom he probably held an unacceptable sexual attraction for.

    The heart of this presentation is Natalie Wood's incredible portrayal of Maggie the Cat. She brings a sensuality to the part that makes the audience believe that she will triumph in her endeavors. Against all odds. And these odds are great in this unwatered down production.

    Maggie the Cat has a tougher time in this version. In the 1958 film version starring Taylor and Paul Newman, the filmmakers couldn't explore Bricks' sexuality.

    In this 1976 TV version, its fully explored per the original intentions of the author. Maggie is trying against the odds to seduce a husband whose attraction leans in another direction, to achieve her goal -- security. To please an old man that she admires and loves. To win back her true love? Maybe.

    In the end, my money is on Nat!

    Robert Wagner gives one of his best (and true to the character performances). Brick is a drunk -- and Wagner portrays him as just that. Sir Olivier connects with his co-stars, as do the other supporting actors.

    The most substantial drawback in this production are -- the production values itself. The Director plans his shots like a bad soap opera. His camera is often aimed too close when he should be wide to capture the scenery and reactions of other players. His cuts are at times jarring. He misses performances through terrible shot selection.

    Still, its long past due for this classic to be released to video tape, if only to see the beauty that is and was Natalie Wood, and the classic wonder that is Sir Olivier and company.
  • First off, yes, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner were too old for the parts they were playing, but it doesn't detract from the story, at least on Natalie Wood's part.

    The characters are all at rich Big Daddy's (Oliver) plantation home to celebrate his 65th birthday. Unknown to him and Big Mama (Stapleton), but known to everyone else, this is also his last, as he's been diagnosed with terminal cancer but told that it's a spastic colon to soften the blow, and his days are numbered.

    Brick (Wagner) is the all-American hero. A football star, the envy of everyone. He should be at the top of the world, but his best friend Skipper has recently died as a result of too much alcohol. In addition, Skipper started drinking after being convinced by Brick's wife Maggie (Wood) that he was gay, and their friendship, which Brick deems pure and true, was actually driven, in Maggie's opinion, by Skipper's unrequited love for Brick. He attempts to sleep with Maggie, but it ends badly, and after Brick turns his back on him after confessing he loves him, he drinks himself to death.

    At the start, Brick is now drinking himself slowly to death, all the while being resentful of Maggie's intervention, and her part in his death. It's never clear if Brick himself was gay, and if so, if just for Skipper, or in general. The fact that he and Maggie engaged in a sexual relationship at least seems to confirm he was not purely a gay man. He coldly ignores Maggie much of the time, instead taking solace in drinking alcohol to achieve the click, when the troubles of his life fade away and he spends the rest of his waking day in blissful peace.

    Centering around this are Gooper (Hedley) and Mae (Peach). Gooper is Brick's resentful older brother, who did everything that Big Daddy asked, but never was given the time of day by him, unlike Brick, who gets Big Daddy's affection even when Brick is ruining his life. Gooper and Mae want control of Big Daddy's estate, and do everything in their power to sully Big Daddy's image of Brick, and to highlight the marital strife and hatred between Brick and Maggie, and the fact they are childless, which Big Daddy regrets most of all.

    The cast isn't as good as the '58 version with Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, Jack Carson, Judith Anderson, and Madeline Sherwood. But the film highlights the homosexual undertones of Williams' original play, which could not be delved into because of the sanitary codes of the 50s. And really, it's hard to top Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor at the top of their games, and added to that are Ives and Sherwood, who recreate their roles from the hit Broadway play.

    Wood makes for an excellent Maggie, despite her age. Much better than Jessica Lange's characterization, which for the most part was shrill, even when trying to be seductive. Maggie is high-strung, that's for sure, living with a man who sets guidelines for their staying married, refuses to sleep with her, and resents her fully. But Wood finds the right balance between tension and seductiveness.

    Wagner is a bit miscast as Brick. He doesn't look the part. Brick is an athletic god. Maggie laments the fact he hasn't lost his looks yet, in spite of the alcohol. That's just not Wagner. He's a good-looking guy still, he's just not the magnetic image Brick is supposed to be. I like Robert Wagner in other things, this just isn't a role he's physically fit for. Also, his acting in the first act is off. He's very hateful towards Maggie. That works when she talks about Skipper, but shouldn't be the undertone of the entire act. He's more indifferent to Maggie than anything, until she rubs the Skipper wound raw, at least in Williams' play. Later on though, Wagner grows in the role, and is much better in the second act, when talking to Big Daddy, and the third, when the revelation Big Daddy is drying and the vultures trying to take the estate start circling.

    As Daddy, Olivier fares much better. His southern accent is good, his acting is good, and he's light years ahead of Rip Torn in the aforementioned remake with Lange, who was apparently directed to play Big Daddy as drunk and senile. Big Daddy is a powerful man, you're supposed to be awed in his presence, and while I like Rip Torn, he just wasn't it. Olivier strikes the balance of awe and desperation, wanting to leave everything to Brick, but unable to reconcile the fact that he'd be leaving a 10 million dollar estate to a childless drunk who would simply use the money to buy alcohol and further run himself into the ground.

    Maureen Stapleton also excels as Big Mama, easily the most pitiful character in the film. She loves and dotes on Big Daddy, despite his open resentfulness of her, and his affinity for insults, which she tries to love, in spite of the fact it hurts. She really shines in act three, which is her pivotal scene in the play.

    Also, Hedley and Peach are good in their lesser roles of Gooper and Mae, They're not heavily dimensional, serving mainly as antagonists to drive the other characters to get through to Brick, but they play well what they're given.

    It's not the best of the films, that goes to the '58 version, in spite of it's upbeat ending and skirting around of the homosexual undertones in the original play, but it's the better of the two straight play adaptations, in spite of some miscasting on Robert Wagner's part, though he does OK in the role. Ultimately, this is a dysfunctional day in the lives of very dysfunctional people, and overall, it delivers.

    I give it a 7/10
  • Natalie Wood was probably born for the role of Maggie the Cat, a frustrated woman trapped in a marriage to a drunk who doesn't want to face the reality of life. Playing her husband Brick, a former football player and commentator, is real-life husband Robert Wagner - and those who only know him from 'Hart to Hart' will be surprised by how good an actor he is here.

    In a set which is strictly budget, but still gets across the claustrophobia of a Southern summer, Wood and Wagner spar with each other, and balance the slight overacting (and strange make-up) of Laurence Olivier as Big Daddy, the patriarch who doesn't realise his time is up.

    All three are very good in this play and some areas which were excised from the better-known Taylor-Newman film return to the script, and the plot is all the better for it. But this is Natalie Wood's show, and she knows it. Still glamorous in middle-age, she purrs and plots to save her marriage and get one over her greedy, grasping in-laws, Gooper and May, and their 'no-neck monsters'.

    Well worth watching and very enjoyable.
  • Most people know this storyline by now: Maggie the Cat desperately wants latent homosexual hubby Brick to impregnate her and thus insure her standing in the eyes of terminal Big Daddy Pollitt. Compared to the 1958 movie version with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, this 1976 TV movie is merely satisfactory. Both Wood & Wagner were clearly middle aged. At 46, Wagner's Brick looks more like a drunk who can't get out of a bathtub, than a young man who's college football days are but a few years behind him. As for his character's thoughts, intentions, it would appear that he wasn't able to get anything else accomplished except to convey that Brick is a drunkard. Wood is overly anxious throughout & overdoes her 'southern' accent to the inth degree. Unlike Burl Ives in the '58 version, Olivier's Big Daddy is just distant. Why would anyone even bother with him ? The only save in this mess is the always outstanding Maureen Stapleton as Big Mama, who parlays years of her husband's neglect and indifferent children into her character's crushed but still trying spirit.
  • 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' has been proported to be Tennessee Williams' personal favourite play of his. It's mine as well, and this is coming from a big admirer of Williams since studying the play in school when studying all the different aspects of love in English Literature. It is also one of his most famous and most performed, both justifiably so and it deserves its positive reputation. It is a very powerful and brilliantly written play with vividly drawn characters, with bold themes.

    Saw two filmed versions prior to this 1976 version. One was the best known one, the film from 1958. The other was from 1984 with Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn. As well as come to think of it a very interesting version part of the National Theatre Live series, very well performed if an acquired taste on a visual level. Both the 1958 and 1984 versions are very good in their own way. 1984's is much more faithful in detail and spirit to the play, censorship not restricting things so it has what was toned down or ommitted before. 1958 despite being toned down, while still sizzling, has the better production values and even more of a powerhouse cast, namely Burl Ives, also thought the confrontation between Brick and Big Daddy more powerful in the film too.

    1976's version is a more than worthy one. Actually consider it very good with a lot of excellently executed things. Like 1984's, it is much more faithful to the play, more of it and it's not toned down, though 1958's had the production values and cast.

    Do agree that the production values are the biggest hindrance. The restricted budget does show but it's the video direction that fares weakest in this regard. It is very choppy and it is not near expansive enough, there is far too much of filmed play feel that completely lacks focus and experience.

    Also agree to some extent that Robert Wagner is too cold in the first act so the chemistry between him and Natalie Wood doesn't always sizzle enough. Most of the time though it is a long way from a fizzler.

    He does come off much better though later on, his chemistry in particular with Laurence Olivier sears. Wood is a sensual though also heartfelt Maggie (actually didn't care about her being too old because the interpretation is dead on and she looks beautiful), out of all the versions to me this one has the most developed character writing for Maggie. Olivier is a very powerful presence as Big Daddy with overdoing it, especially in the latter stages, and Maureen Stapleton is a deeply moving Big Mama, her despair really breaks the heart.

    Williams' dialogue is bold, provokes thought and induces a wide range of emotions. The storytelling and staging doesn't feel either cluttered or static, the drama always coherent and with momentum. The claustrophobic feel of some of it was effective.

    Concluding, very good. 8/10